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                                                                                                                                                        The STORYTELLER
Selected Short Stones
Volume Two

NISSAN MINDEL

Illustrations
YOSEF DERSHOWITZ

Published by
MERKOS L'INYONEI CHINUCH, INC.
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213
BROOKLYN, N. Y. " (212) 756-1473
First Printing Copyright 1984
258 pages
 


The Martyr of Mayence


More than eight hundred years ago there lived a
great man in the city of Mayence (Maintz). His name
was Rabbi Amnon. A great scholar and a very pious man,
Rabbi Amnon was loved and respected by Jews and non-
Jews alike, and his name was known far and wide. Even
the Duke of Hessen, the ruler of the land, admired and
respected Rabbi Amnon for his wisdom, learning, and
piety. Many a time the Duke invited the Rabbi to his
palace and consulted him on matters of State.

Rabbi Amnon never accepted any reward for his
services to the Duke or to the State. From time to time,
however, Rabbi Amnon would ask the Duke to ease the
position of the Jews in his land, to abolish some of the
decrees and restrictions which existed against the Jews
at the time, and generally to enable them to live in
peace and security. This was the only favor that Rabbi
Amnon ever requested from the Duke, and the Duke
never turned down his request. Thus, Rabbi Amnon and
his brethren lived peacefully for many years.


Now the other courtiers of the Duke grew envious of
Rabbi Amnon. Most envious of them all was the Duke's
secretary, who could not bear to see the honor and

respect which Rabbi Amnon enjoyed with his master,
which was rapidly developing into a great friendship
between the Duke and the Rabbi. The secretary began
to seek ways and means to discredit Rabbi Amnon in the
eyes of the Duke.

One day, the secretary said to the Duke:

"Your Highness, why should you not persuade Rab-
bi Amnon to become a Christian, like ourselves? I am
sure that considering the honor and many favors he has
enjoyed at your generous hand, he will gladly abandon
his faith and accept ours."

The Duke thought it was not a bad idea. When Rab-
bi Amnon came to his palace the next day, the Duke
said to him:

"My good friend, Rabbi Amnon, I know you have
been loyal and devoted to me for many years. Now I
wish to ask you a personal favor. Abandon your faith,
and become a good Christian like me. If you do, I shall
make you the greatest man in the whole of my State;
you shall have honor and riches like no other man, and
next to me, you shall be the most powerful man in my
land. ..."

Rabbi Amnon grew very pale. For a moment he
could find no words to reply to the Duke, but after a
while he said:

"Oh, illustrious Monarch! For many years I have
served you faithfully, and my being a Jew in no way les-
sened my loyalty to you or the the State. On the con-
trary, my faith bids me to be loyal and faithful to the
land of my sojourn. I am ready and willing to sacrifice
everything I possess, even my very life, for you as well as
for the State. There is one thing, however, that I can

never part with  this is my faith. I am bound by an un-
breakable covenant to my faith, the faith of my
forefathers. Do you want me to betray my people, my
G-d? Would you want a man to serve you that has no
respect for his religion, for the bonds and ties he holds
most sacred! If I betray my G-d, could you ever trust me
never to betray you! Surely, the Duke cannot mean it.
The Duke is jesting!"

"No, no," the Duke said, though he sounded a little
uncertain, for inwardly the Duke was pleased with Rab-
bi Amnon's reply. Rabbi Amnon hoped the matter was
settled, but when he arrived at the palace the next day,
the Duke repeated his request. Rabbi Amnon became
very unhappy and began to avoid visiting the palace,
unless it was absolutely necessary.

One day, the Duke, impatient at Rabbi Amnon's
obstinacy, put it very bluntly to him; he must either
become a Christian or suffer the consequences.

Pressed to give his answer immediately, Rabbi
Amnon begged the Duke to allow him three days in
which to consider the matter. This, the Duke granted
him.

 

No sooner did Rabbi Amnon leave the Duke than
he realized his grave sin. "My G-d!" he thought. "What
have I done! Am I lacking in faith and courage that I
requested three days for consideration? Can there be any
but one answer? How could I show such weakness even
for one moment! Oh, gracious G-d, forgive me. ..."


Rabbi Amnon arrived home broken-hearted. He
secluded himself in his room and spent the next three
days in prayer and supplication, begging G-d's
forgiveness.

When Rabbi Amnon did not arrive at the palace on
the third day, the Duke became very angry, and ordered
his men to bring Rabbi Amnon in chains.

The Duke hardly recognized Rabbi Amnon, so
much did the venerable man change in the course of the
last three days. However, the Duke quickly brushed
aside whatever feeling of sympathy he might have felt to
his erstwhile friend, and said to him sternly:

"How dare you disregard my command! Why did
you not appear before, in time to give me your answer?!
For your sake, I trust you have decided to do as I tell
you. It will be bad for you otherwise."

Although Rabbi Amnon was now a broken man
physically, his spirit was stronger than ever.

"Your highness," Rabbi Amnon answered him
fearlessly, "There can be but one answer: I shall remain
a loyal Jew as long as I breathe!"

The Duke was beside himself with wrath. "It is now
more than the question of your becoming a Christian.
You have disobeyed me by not coming voluntarily to
give me your answer. For this you must be punished."

"Your highness," Rabbi Amnon said, "By re-
questing three days for consideration, I have sinned
gravely against my G-d. My tongue has committed the
sin. If I may pass judgment upon myself  let my
tongue be torn from my mouth!"

These brave words enraged the Duke even more.
"For sinning against your G-d," the Duke said angrily,
"let Him avenge Himself. I shall punish you for disobey-
ing my orders. Not your tongue sinned against me but

your legs, for they refused to come to me; therefore your
legs shall be cut off!"


 

With very faint signs of life, the legless body of Rab-
bi Amnon was sent back to his home, to his grief-
stricken family. It was the day before Rosh Hashono.
The news about Rabbi Amnon's dreadful fate
spread throughout the whole city. Everyone was hor-
rified and distressed. It was a very tragic Day of Judg-
ment for the Jews of Maintz, who assembled in Shul the
following morning.

Despite his terrible suffering, Rabbi Amnon
remembered that it was Rosh Hashono, and he re-
quested to be taken to Shul. At his request, he was
placed in front of the Holy Ark.

All the worshippers, men, women and children,
wept terribly seeing their beloved Rabbi in such agony,
and never were any more heart-rending prayers offered
than on that day of Rosh Hashono.

When the "chazzan" began to recite the Musaf
prayer, Rabbi Amnon motioned that there be made an
interval while he offered a special prayer to G-d. Silence
fell upon the worshippers, and Rabbi Amnon began to
recite Unesanneh toikef ("Let us express the mighty
holiness of this day"). The congregation repeated every
word, and their hearts went out to G-d in prayer and
tears. "Kedusha" was then recited, followed by the
prayer of "Oleinu." When the words "He is our G-d, and
no other" were reached, Rabbi Amnon cried them out
with his last remaining strength, and passed away.

The prayer 'Unesanneh Toikef  one of the most
solemn prayers of Rosh Hashono and Yom-Kippur, is
recited in every Jewish community in the whole world.
Its awe-inspiring message serves as an inspiration to all
of us

 

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